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Most schools offer good advice, and have policies in place to tackle cyberbullying, but what about the wider implications of the comments that our kids post online? What do parents need to know about reputation management?
What is Reputation Management?
Reputation management is the influencing and control of a business or an individual’s reputation. Originally used by PR companies, it has become a stand-alone commercial enterprise, with agencies offering assistance to clear up the online profile of a person or business.
It can be an ethically tricky area, as some of this work deals in the removal or erasure of search results. Let’s take an example of a businessman who has done dodgy deals in the past, and now wants to ‘re-brand’ as a trust-worthy person, who you’d be happy to do business with. Reputation management agencies work their magic on the search results, and flood internet with lovely stories about what an upstanding, caring person he is, pushing the stories of unhappy customers, and embezzlement claims further back on the search pages.
Why do Parents Need to Know about Reputation Management?
I’m not for one second advising you to hire an agency to work on your children’s online reputation – the point of parents needing to know about this is to avoid that necessity in the future. Our kids are the first Social Media Generation. They have grown up with Facebook and Twitter, they are used to their lives being shared online. When my kids were little, they’d say, ‘Put that on YouTube’ when I filmed the dog doing something funny.
When kids are taught in school about the Dangers of the Internet, the lessons often concentrate on potential contact with strangers, grooming, sharing intimate photos with people they meet online. The focus is on immediate danger to the kids, not the risk in the future.
Here are just a few of the things that can trip teens up online (and not just teens!)
What do Kids Need to Know about Reputation Management?
Teens need to know that if they post abusive comments online, they may well be found and even prosecuted. That if they tweet a photo of their body parts, it might get passed on to others. If they are rude about a teacher, there is a chance the teacher will see it.
The anonymity of online message boards encourages people to be brutally honest, and this can stray over the line into abuse and bullying. Would the user think twice if they thought that they could be identified and publicly shamed? Or indeed prosecuted for their comments?
For many young people, Social Media allows them to stand up and shout out their feelings. They may think it is really funny right now, but would they be able to look the person they abused in the eye and make that comment? Or will they later look back on their posts and feel ashamed of their behaviour?
This doesn’t mean that people posting horrific abuse are guilty of a ‘youthful indiscretion’, or that there should be an excuse for them. It’s our job as parents is to teach our kids that online abuse is just as bad as going up to a person and punching them.
And that once that comment is online, they might not be able to take it back. Even after an apology, people are going to judge them for that comment; for making it in the first place.
Long Term Consequences
What youthful indiscretions would a google search of your name show up? A photo of a drunken night out would likely not put a prospective employer off hiring you, but how would they view an abusive tweet or an extreme political viewpoint? Should a person be forever judged by a silly comment made when they were younger?
If a teen posts about bunking off school, and hating work, is he less likely to be accepted to that college course? Or get that job?
‘Students always ask if we check them out on Facebook and Twitter. If an applicant seems really cocky or entitled, I do Google them. Facebook is so easy to block, but a lot of kids have open Twitter profiles. It rarely paints a good picture. You’ll see kids being really mean and disrespectful. Occasionally, there’s a picture of them drinking or flipping off the camera. Or they’ll be using bad language. It just comes off as immature. It’s a turn-off’
The often anonymous nature of the internet, and a feeling of detachment, leads many to think that they can write online without fear of repercussion. What if payback came years later?
What if your kids posted a comment online that went viral? For the rest of their life, that comment would pop up when someone googled their name. A racist or abusive comment will have more serious repercussions than one like this tweet, but it’s not exactly putting their best foot forward!
When you talk to your child about their online habits, ensure that they know about protecting their reputation, as well as their privacy. Read our tips on having this conversation with your kids, and download our Family Media Agreement here.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed gives a fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who’ve been publicly shamed in the past few years. One of the things that I noticed was that the abuse aimed at girls and women was particularly nasty.
10 Social Media Blunders that Cost a Millenial their Job
From posting while at work, posting about work and even posting photos of a party when nowhere near work, social media has gotten a lot of people fired. Or should that be ‘unwise decisions have gotten a lot of people fired.
Teens and Reputation Management
Among teen social media users, nearly six in ten teens (59%) have deleted or edited something that they posted to their profile in the past. Children of college-educated parents are more likely to have cleaned up something posted in the past than youth whose parents have a high school diploma (66% vs. 51%). Read more data on how teens clear up their social media history here.